One of a kind unique building and home design.
By Leah Kellar
In all of its 22 years of building remarkable custom homes, Edmonton-based Habitat Studio can proudly say that they’ve never built nor designed the same home twice. That alone helps them to stand apart in what is often a sea of cookie-cutter-like residences built in many urban and even rural neighborhoods these days.
Custom home design for Habitat Studio is a one-of-a-kind art that takes a certain level of expertise and appreciation for design that sets itself apart in a great way from the competition. Habitat Studio builds gorgeous houses that stand the test of time in terms of the environment and value for investment. The company is employee-owned with more than 23 working shareholders working with close collaboration with great, often long-time clients to build one-of-a-kind homes that are tailored to their discerning architectural tastes.
“It’s been a lot of fun for us. Our company has had a vision right from the get-go and it was to do a true custom home, and a very energy efficient home, as well as a true custom design so, and we’ve done that ever since day one,” said Vice President of Habitat Studio, Trevor Hoover, in conversation with Business Elite Canada.
Hoover joined Habitat Studio in 1994 in drafting and design work, and working closely with the City of Edmonton to get permits and to comply with regulation standards. The original three partners later put a succession plan in place to ensure the continual growth of the company, and through it Hoover was mentored and groomed to take the lead of the company as a lead designer several years ago. He is now in charge of a team of three, including one full-time interior designer.
“It’s been exceptionally good for us, and we’ve all really enjoyed our growth over the years,” said Hoover.
The company was founded by a truly creative team, which consisted of a designer and a contractor with practical experience and the expertise to turn dream home concepts into reality. Approximately one year later, they took on a another partner, Peter Amerongen, who is now company president and was a builder at the time, and officially formed Habitat Studio. Not to be confused with Habitat for Humanity, although it sometimes has had to redirect calls due to mistaken identity. Habitat Studio has a design studio with a workshop that builds the habitats, hence the company name given by founders Bruce Watt and Vince Campbell. The company, which specializes exclusively in the residential industry, completes approximately 15-19 projects per year including everything from designing and building new custom homes to undertaking large scale renovations.
The value for some of the small renovations ranges from $200,000-$400,000. A large renovation would be approximately $700,000-$800,000, and a small home would approximately cost half a million dollars. Habitat Studio has recently signed a couple contracts in excess of $3.0M but in most cases custom homes average around the $1-million mark in cost, not including property purchase. Hoover recalls Habitat Studio’s first ‘Net-zero’ home and we had the first net zero home under the CMHC brand and program. It was the company’s first milestone project among an impressive and extensive portfolio of numerous award-winning exceptionally beautiful custom homes of high quality and sustainability. Net-zero building is what’s known in the industry as building with zero net energy consumption. It is a sustainability practice meaning that the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. A call was put out to designers and builders across Canada approximately 8 years ago to complete Canada’s first net zero home, and Habitat Studio was the first to do it of 10 companies chosen.
“We learned a lot from that: Is it perfect? No, but your first prototype never is. We have six in total, so we’ve continued to refine every time to get a lot closer,” said Hoover.
Sustainability is an important factor for Habitat Studio. The company is a national leader in sustainable home building with several sustainable home building awards to its credit including the 2014 Participant, NRCan R-2000 Net-Zero Energy Pilot award and a 2013 Green Builder Challenge award from the Alberta Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council, and an Environmental Certificate of Recognition from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association in 2011, 2012, and 2013, among the most recent. Company president, Peter Amerongen is an award-winning, nationally-recognized expert in sustainable building with a Certified Passive House Consultant credential. He is also a leading authority in North America on zero energy design and construction. Habitat Studio’s first net zero was in Riverdale, subsequently the company has completed four more in the Edmonton area, and one retrofit project, including one of which is also LEED platinum.
Not all custom homes built are net-zero. Habitat Studio completes net-zero homes by request from the client and come at a more substantial cost ranging from an additional $40,000 to $100,000. But that can be a long-term savings to the consumer notes Hoover, and right now the cost of solar energy has gone down in price.
“Net-zero or Net-zero ready is important for many reasons: the price of gas is not going to go down, and the price of electricity is not going to go down. There’s talk of climate change, so it only makes sense that if it’s going to cost you another $10,000 to 30,0000 for a $500,000 to 700,0000 house, to make your house perform much better. It will also be more comfortable. You can sit next to the window and not feel a draft when it’s -30 degrees Celsius outside,” said Hoover. “It’s not much just do your part for the environment. For us, it’s not that big of a deal in terms of the effort, that’s been kind of a passion for us.”
Many of the design and building techniques that go into net zero homes go into the construction of Habitat Studio’s other homes. Every home is very airtight for example, and every home is very well insulated with the best appliances such as furnaces or hot water tanks, or on-demand tanks or whatever is required for maximum efficiency according to the client’s desire and project budget. Considering budget and timeframe for completing the project, the sky’s the limit when it comes to custom designed homes. Habitat Studio takes the client’s vision from inception to completion, providing guidance and suggestions for great concepts along the way if the client is not so sure what they’re looking for.
“We can design anything you want from something Victorian to Frank Lloyd Wright to contemporary-modern; whatever you want is what we specialize in. So we make ourselves standout that way,” said Hoover. “We have a really good design team here. We design everything:the fireplace, the cabinets, the flooring—everything— just like an architect would do.”
The process is construction management at Habitat Studio, not general contracting so they are able to work directly with the clients throughout the entire project, including providing updates on cost and providing options according to the client’s budget upfront, as well as accommodating any cost changes along the way.
“It takes a lot longer this way. It’s a lot more work, a lot more hours go into the home, but at the end of the day every client can say that they love their house and that they’ve had a lot to do with it. That’s truly the important part that we and the client can take great pride in,” said Hoover.
He notes that some of his favourite clients over the years have been those who may go into the process not knowing exactly what they want and leave Habitat Studio with nearly free reins to do what they think would look best and suite the client according to budget.
“You get some that are open to any idea, and then you get some that are very specific in what they want. The fun ones are the ones who aren’t exactly sure what they want and want you to really run with it and play. They really trust you,” said Hoover.
The company’s creativity comes from a lot of schooling, experience, and lots of research.
“Design is a passion of ours, and we spend a lot of time on different websites, reading a lot of books. We have a huge library here of just anything we can do to really inspire ourselves, and the client,” said Hoover.
Habitat Studio’s award-winning designs are keeping it a leader in a promising Alberta housing market. Habitat Studio has completed design projects in various places for clients across Canada. Its success is thanks in part to many suppliers and tradespeople who have been with the company since its beginnings.
As for advice to potential clients looking for an energy-efficient custom made home of exquisite beauty and character, Hoover has a bit of wisdom that he heard from a contractor at a conference recently, “Pay your architect lots of money, because for every one dollar you pay your architect, you’re going to pay $100 to make that change on site. So make sure you pay that $1 and get it right!”